It has now been 3 days since I raced Ironman Lake Placid in New York this past weekend. Much like my first go at the Ironman distance this past September I find myself still overwhelmed and trying to process everything that took place this past Sunday. Overall I am satisfied and proud of the race I was able to put together and execute to bring home the result I wanted heading in. Although I can still see plenty of flaws in my race preparation and execution, mainly a combination of my lack of experience and a steep learning curve in Ironman racing, this was a big step forward from my first take at the distance. My perception of my race is still changing every day, and my race report would be different any of the last three days and will probably continue to change, but overall it was a great day and another amazing experience in the sport.
Unlike my first go at the distance this past September where I went in with no real plan and just wanted to experience the distance I went into this race with a pretty specific plan and time checks. Having looked through the past 10 years of Lake Placid race results I was amazed to find that almost like clockwork, a 9 hour finish time places 4th overall just about every single year. The race field assembled didn't strike me as overly impressive despite this being a major Ironman with a big prize purse. There were about five "big names" (one of whom dropped out) and after that things seemed to drop off substantially. With all this in mind plus the knowledge of the course having trained on it two months prior I decided on what I thought would be a pretty conservative race plan that would net a 9:00-9:05 finish time which, based on the history of the race, should put me right in the thick of racing for a good top-5 result. I have been running great all year and I knew heading in my bike fitness has improved over the season but is still lacking. I was only able to put in two rides of 100+ miles in prep for this race where ideally I would like to have gotten in 4-5 100+ milers. So I knew I had to really chill on the bike as going too hard would only hurt my weapon, the run. I planned to try to ride a 5:00-5:05 conservative bike split and hopefully be able to follow that up with a 3 hour marathon. Combined with the swim I knew that should put me right around 9 hours which should have me racing for a good result.
Race weekend I tried to avoid the Ironman zoo as much as possible as being around the thousands of people and race madness only makes me nervous and stresses me out. I didn't arrive in Lake Placid until 2pm Saturday, an hour before gear check in ended, and just 17 hours before the start. I want to say a big thanks to the Jacobs and Allen families of Plymouth Indiana for hosting me in their rental home, it was a great homestay that kept me relaxed all day Saturday and having never met me they were very brave to host me!
Swim: 55:21 8th fastest split
Race morning was busy and went by quickly which was nice because I didn't have much time to think about what I was about to undertake. The swim was very uneventful which I think is always a good thing in an Ironman swim. Got off to a great start and right into the thick of things. Swam towards the front of the chase pack the whole way out. Got to the first turns 1000 yards out and got shuffled to the back as I was on the outside around the turns. Swam back in on the back of the group. The swim in Lake Placid is fantastic, it is clear and there's a visible underwater guide cable the entire way. It was super easy to draft and I only had to sight about every 5 minutes. Started the second loop at the back of our group and the pace slowed considerably. I looked up and the guy I was swimming on lost the group in front of him. I made a move to go after them but quickly realized they were gone and decided my best bet would be to just sacrifice a little time and cruise the second half on the feet in front of me. Out of the water in 8th place, couldn't believe how big the crowd was, the entire quarter mile run to T1 must have been 5 people deep. Made it a point to really cruise through transition as it was a long day and I wanted to keep my heart rate down.
Bike: 5:02:37 22.2mph 7th fastest split
A quick transition put me onto the bike within sight of 5th place. I planned to go out really conservative as it was but didn't plan to be in such high position starting the bike. So I decided to go out even easier since I was in good position. Two guys went by in the first 10 miles. Was riding well within myself at the effort I planned but not seeing the speed I expected for the effort I was giving. At the first turnaround 30 miles in I became concerned. The leader was way further up than I expected, and the lead woman was only 4 minutes behind me. I had dropped from 6th to 8th position and could see I was about to drop to 9th. I felt I was in control of the race after the swim but could feel it getting away. The only good news was that every single pro was riding a solo effort and there was nobody working together so I didn't feel as bad about getting dropped and being alone. At mile 35 Jason Shortis came by to put me into 9th and I decided that I had to forgo my conservative race plan and go with him to get back into the race. We started the long climbs leading back into town and the pace felt super hard. I stuck with it and started feeling better and better. By 45 miles I felt the best I had all race and began taking turns setting the pace. Through the half in 2:27 which was right about where I wanted for a 5 hour split. Kept working with Jason until I got dropped on the Keene descent at mile 70. Rode the entire rest of the way solo. Was concerned about the last 20 miles since that's where I fell apart in my first Iron distance race and the last 20 are all uphill, but I think my ultra conservative pace the first 30 miles paid off because I stayed strong relative to everyone else. Caught and passed two guys who were falling apart on the final climbs in the last 5 miles heading back into town. Hit T2 in 6th position with a 5:02 split, pretty much exactly the position and time I had written down I wanted to be before the race. Best news of all is that I didn't feel fried finishing the bike like I felt in my first 140.6, I felt ready to run a sub-3 hour marathon.
Run: 3:04:42 5th fastest split
I always tell the athletes I coach that in any race over 4 hours in length you have to be ready for things to go wrong and the unexpected because unexpected things always happen and troubleshooting is part of the game. I was lucky that I only had one big curveball thrown at me during the race and as it turns out I did it to myself. I hurried through T2 to try to gap the two athletes I came off the bike with. I started the marathon and knew something wasn't right but couldn't figure out what. A minute in I realized I had left my gel flask in my transition bag which was the nutrition I was relying on for the marathon. Oops. I quickly had to improvise and utilize the aid station nutrition which is a bit of a gamble because you never know what flavor the gel will be and some flavors I can't tolerate. Thankfully I made it work although I had to force some of the gels down. Felt great running out of T2, no real lingering fatigue and floated through the first 6 mostly downhill miles at 6:15 pace, passed an athlete to move into 5th position and was putting time into everyone behind me and gaining on 4th. Through 10 miles in 64 minutes feeling great and through 13.1 in 1:26. It's amazing how quickly things can change in a marathon because I went from feeling on top of the world at the half marathon, on cruise control enjoying the massive crowd in town, positive I was going to smash 3 hours, and run down 4th place to feeling on the verge of walking, completely depleted, legs so sore I could barely lift them, hoping I could just finish top-8 in a two mile stretch. My pace went from 6:30 on cruise control to 7:30 and struggling in that two miles. The last 11 miles were just pure raw suffering. Probably the biggest thing I took away from my first 140.6 race was the knowledge of how painful and intense the suffering is in Ironman racing, there's no workout or other race that can replicate the pure intensity of the suffering. I think having that knowledge really helped me to keep it together and manage the last 11 miles despite the discomfort. I made a 1 minute port-a-john stop at mile 18 and then went through a real bad patch from 19-20 miles. Started doubling my nutrition intake the rest of the way and that seemed to help. Through 20 miles in 2:15. Was very concerned about getting run down from behind but thankfully all of my closest pursuers seemed to be going through the same thing and all of the time gaps seemed to hold steady despite significant slowing. My mind went to some bad places those last 11 miles but through it all I kept pushing. The last 10k all I could manage was 8min pace, I've never run with such sore quads in my life, lifting my legs took all the energy I had. Finally made it to the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won 5 gold medals in the 1980 olympics. Can't say I remember much from the lap around the track to the finish but I made it to finish 5th-the exact position and almost the time I had written down for myself a few days before the race.
Overall: 9:07:05 5th place
Very happy to come home in the exact finish position I had written down for myself a week ago. Not so pleased with my half marathon run splits of 1:26-1:38. Although I did cut 7 minutes off my marathon from last September which was run on a much easier course. Ironman marathons just have a steep learning curve I suppose and I did take a big step forward although I know I had sub-3 in me. Probably needed to go out 1-2 mins slower and then be more mentally tough the last half. I was very fortunate to not lose any positions with the way I ran. Had the field been deeper this mistake likely would have cost me several positions in the final 10k. Got away with it this time and didn't lose any positions. Had a great time at this race, Lake Placid is an incredible and inspiring place to race. I still remain amazed by the undertaking to put on such an event. 4000 volunteers worked from 5am through midnight to make the race go without a noticeable glitch. Ironman racing is a pretty neat thing with an incredible positive vibe surrounding the events and I hope to be back at this one next year. I look forward to the second half of my season now. This first half got off to a very slow start following a long offseason but I have come into good form in the last month. I look forward to starting the second half of the season in race shape and continuing to build the momentum I've found in July. I feel more motivated than I've ever been entering August and if things continue the way they're going I think I can produce career best results the second half of this season. But for now it's time to recover. See you at the races, and congrats to all the participants, Daniel